Jump to content

What's fairy tale-style magic?

Recommended Posts

One of foremost powers of Brangomar, the Shadow Queen is "fairy tale-style" magic.  All well and good but what does that even mean?  Yes, I know it denotes a particular flavor and set of limitations but I'm afraid I'm not literate enough to know what those are presently.  Might somebody be informed enough to know?

Link to post
Share on other sites

The more powerful the spell the easier it is to undo.

Every magical deal has an escape clause. ie; Discover my name (Rumplestilskin)or “bring me a cow white as milk, hair like gold and a cloak red as blood.” (Into the Woods)

No wishing for love or death. (Disney’s Aladdin)

Elf/Fairy magic can be destroyed by iron.


Fairy tale magic can do almost anything but by its very nature it has strict rules and limitations.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Looking at some examples from fairy tales: accelerating the growth of/animating plants, e.g. walls of thorns, grasping tree branches or vines; conjuring/summoning animals, solo or in groups; changing one's form into an animal, a monster like a dragon, or to resemble another person; transforming someone else, such as making them old or hideously deformed, or turning them into an animal, possibly under the magician's command; cursing someone with perpetual sleep, or madness; enchantments through an object, e.g. poisoned fruit or sharp items whose prick brings a curse; enchantments through crafts, like spinning straw into gold, or forging weapons. Beneficial effects are also possible, such as blessings of health, strength, or beauty, especially on newborn children.

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, AlgaeNymph said:

One of Brangomar's foremost powers is "fairy tale-style" magic.  All well and good but what does that even mean? 

IDK who that is.


But, considering my audience, I'd say that "Fairy Tale" magic functions to teach a moral/in-group/role-affirming/conformity lesson.  Don't stay on the path?  Bad things happen.  Do follow the elders' instructions even though they sound batshit crazy?  You prevail.  Unfailingly polite to even weird creatures?  You make your way past them unmolested.  Violate cultural norms? (unless, it's a batshit crazy thing an elder told you to do) Get transformed into something icky.





Link to post
Share on other sites

Brangomar, aka the Shadow Queen, most recently written up Champions Villains Volume One: Master Villains, is essentially Disney's Maleficent (the classic animated version from Sleeping Beauty, not live action); except that instead of being a dark faerie queen who can transform into a dragon, Brangomar is a dragon using magic to appear as a human-like woman. Her personality and style are very much like Maleficent, and like the evil Queen in Disney's Snow White. Brangomar rules a land called the Shadow Realm in the dimension of Faerie, that being the sum of all the lands, races, creatures, and gods from human myth and legend. The Shadow Queen is also a powerful sorceress in the aforementioned "fairy-tale" magic style.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Shadow Queen was one of the major villains in my last Champions campaign. It worked quite well to have Black Paladin as her lieutenant.


Because of the faerie tale nature of her realm, I used Disney-esque elements in the encounters with the villains and describing her kingdom. Because it amused the Shadow Queen, one of the heroes became involved in a singing contest with Black Paladin, which the fallen knight wasn’t going to do until she spelled him into it. It later became known in that campaign that Black Paladin has “a marvelous singing voice.”

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Shadow Queen often hires Earthly supervillains for her schemes, particularly supernatural ones who fit her medieval/fantasy motif. For one story arc I gave her a whole cadre of "knights," her Obsidian Table, led by Black Paladin and including Hell Rider, Morningstar, Lightning Man, Matachin, Shadowdragon (from a different culture, but his code-name pleased her), and Harpy (Brangomar's jealousy normally precludes women, but she saw Harpy's bird-form as ugly and therefore non-threatening).

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been giving this some thought, and if I may answer my own question I'd like to list some common elements I've observed.

  • Foremost, fairy tale magic has to advance the story.  For example, teleporting oneself to a christening to bestow a curse, but not to reposition oneself during combat.
  • Spells are flashy one-off sort of things.  Fairy tale magic is less of a toolkit and more a set of narrative devices; thus, a generalist spellcaster isn't going to be utilitarian with their repertoire.
  • Anything permanent has a high price, fatal flaw, or escape clause. There could be sociocultural reasons, but I suspect it's more an expedient to give Random Peasant Hero a fighting chance.
  • It can't fight God or Fate, because fairy tales are very much a product of their times.  Though that raises the question of how the magic changes when the times do...
  • Any exceptions to the rules is almost entirely to enhance the aesthetic of the setting, but not to the point of mundane utility.  A remote ice palace is quite doable, but ubiquitous refrigeration no so much.

Fairy tale magic, as I understand it, is Romanticism made physically manifest.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some more guidelines.


Transformation: Transformation attacks, whatever they are, MUST have a way to undo them. Usually the attacks do not heal back, they are permanent until that clause is met. Usual transformations are into animals, curses of ugliness, blindness, the inability to see beauty in the world (The Snow Queen). Note: even beneficial transformations have this clause.


Barrier: Used to create instant walls of plants, or stone, or ice. There is always a way through for the pure of heart.


Entangles: Can hold people via various means. While the pure of heart doesn't protect the victim from being bound, the brave heart finds it easy to cut through the entangle. 


Basically a pure heart/brave heart is protection against certain effects. What that means is up to the GM.

Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, AlgaeNymph said:

Spells are flashy one-off sort of things.  Fairy tale magic is less of a toolkit and more a set of narrative devices; thus, a generalist spellcaster isn't going to be utilitarian with their repertoire.

I always enjoyed Piers Anthony's work, and the Adept series (where each spell must be cast on the fly and can never be repeated) was my first introduction to it.


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, fairy tale magic seems to be incredibly powerful, but very limited and often with a cost.


For example, you can wish for anything, but the wishes rarely turn out the way you intend.  Or you can transform someone into something else, but it requires a twig from a rare plant.  And as OM pointed out, often there are patterns: 3's, 7's, etc.  Luck plays a huge part as well; you must find something to take advantage of the magic, or become incredibly lucky through the magic.  Often there's a sense of justice as well: the most oppressed and downtrodden is the one that's exalted, not the mighty and impressive.

Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, AlgaeNymph said:

Though that raises the question of how the magic changes when the times do.

One thing that's struck me over the years is that the way magic is used, described and related to in very old sources - like Greek mythology, for instance - is very different from traditional fairy tales, which are very different from modern fantasy, is even different from post-modern fantasy.  And, yes, it makes sense the presentation of magic changes with the times, with how it contrasts to the mundane, with prevailing beliefs, and with the role it plays in the story.


In traditional fairy tales, even as they were written down after in the 18th or 19th centuries, there's an impression that they're making sense of a mysterious universe, much like religion and other folk tales.  They were for children, they taught moral and even practical lessons, and they presented a consistency that children need, the same story ends the same way each time, good is rewarded, evil punished, etc, as contrasted with reality which was poorly-understood, arbitrary, tragic and cruel.  


In modern fantasy, OTOH, while the universe still seemed more uncaring than ever, it was better understood, faith in science was on the rise, which made even everyday miracles seem mundane. So the emphasis on magic in fantasy shifted from providing justice in familiar, consistent stories, to providing a sense of wonder when science had made the world seem less wonderous.  The fantasy of Dunsany, Lewis, and Tolkien (and in a darker sense that of Poe and Lovecraft) takes wonder associated with magic, and uses it to create a less knowable world, rather than a more just and consistent one.


Post-modern fantasy, the fantasy of D&D, video games, movies and TV, and literature on the order of Harry Potter, takes it further, in that it's trying to provide a sense of wonder to audiences jaded by the wonders of technology, so magic is wildly powerful, cleverly and practically employed, so that it can outshine modern marvels.  The stories, told, OTOH, are post-modern stories, full of human failings and innately evil  (for evil's sake) systems in dire need of revolutionary change driven by the young and/or outcast.  I guess it'd be a bit cynical to say that's why classes are so imbalanced in D&D and Hero GMs are reputedly more suspicious of magic VPPs than gadget pools, because magic has to be straight-up OP to seem like it's really magic.



Link to post
Share on other sites

Some guidance and inspiration might be found in the Motif-Index of folklorist Stith Thompson. This was an attempt to list every goddamn story motif from every form of folk literature in the world, systematically arranged in categories such as "Tests of Identity" or "The Wise and Foolish," so they can be compared across cultures. (Most of the material actually comes from Europe, but since Thompson other folklorists have used his schema to index the other cultures.) One very large section is "Magic." Here's the detailed synopsis.








D10-D99. Transformation of man to different man
        D10.  Transformation to person of different sex
        D20.  Transformation to person of different social class
        D30.  Transformation to person of different race
        D40.  Transformation to likeness of another person
        D50.  Magic changes in man himself
        D90.  Transformation: man to different man - miscellaneous


D100-D199. Transformation: man to animal
    D110-D199. Transformation: man to mammal
        D110.  Transformation: man to wild beast (mammal)
        D130. Transformation: man to domestic beast (mammal)
        D150.  Transformation: man to bird
        D170.  Transformation: man to fish
        D180.  Transformation: man to insect
        D190.  Transformation: man to reptiles and miscellaneous animals


D200-D299. Transformation: man to object
        D210.  Transformation: man to vegetable form
        D230.  Transformation: man to mineral form
        D250.  Transformation: man to manufactured object
        D270.  Transformation: man to object - miscellaneous


D300-D399. Transformation: animal to person
    D310-D349.  Transformation: mammal to person
        D310.  Transformation: wild beast (mammal) to person
        D330.  Transformation: domestic beast (mammal) to person
        D350.  Transformation: bird to person
        D370.  Transformation: fish to man
        D380.  Transformation: insect to person
        D390.  Transformation: reptiles and miscellaneous animals to persons.


D400-D499.  Other forms of transformation
        D410.  Transformation: one animal to another
        D420.  Transformation: animal to object
        D430.  Transformation: object to person
        D440.  Transformation: object to animal
    D450-D499. Transformation: object to object
        D450.  Transformation: object to another object
        D470.  Transformation: material of object changed
        D480.  Size of object transformed


D500-D599.  Means of transformation
        D510.  Transformation by breaking tabu
        D520,  Transformation through power of the word
        D530.  Transformation by putting on skin, clothing, etc.
        D550.  Transformation by eating or drinking
        D560.  Transformation by various means


D600-D699. Miscellaneous transformation incidents
        D610.  Repeated transformation
        D620.  Periodic transformation
        D630.  Transformation and disenchantment at will
        D640.  Reasons for voluntary transformation
        D660.  Motive for transformation of others
        D670.  Magic flight.
        D680.  Miscellaneous circumstances of transformation


D700-D799  Disenchantment
        D710.  Disenchantment by rough treatment
        D720.  Disenchantment by removing (destroying) covering of en chanted person
        D730.  Disenobantment by submission
        D750.  Disenchantment by faithfulness of others
        D760.  Disenchantment by miscellaneous means
        D780    Attendant circumstances of disenchantment




D800-D899.  Ownership of magic objects
        D800.  Magic oblect
    D810-D859. Acauisition of magic obiect
        D810.  Magic object a gift
        D830.  Magic object acquired by trickery
        D840.  Magic object found
        D850.  Magic object otherwise obtained
        D860.  Loss of magic object
        D880.  Recovery of magic obiect


D900-D1299. Kinds of magic objects
        D900.  Magic weather phenomena
        D910.  Magic body of water
        D930.  Magic land features
        D940.  Magic forests
        D950.  Magic tree
        D960.  Magic gardens and plants
        D980.  Magic fruits and vegetables
    D990-D1099.  Magic bodily members
        D990.  Magic bodily members-human
        D1010.  Magic bodily members-animal
        D1030.  Magic food
        D1040.  Magic drink
        D1050.  Magic clothes
        D1070.  Magic ornaments
        D1080.  Magic weapons
        D1110.  Magic conveyances
        D1130.  Magic buildings and parts
        D1150.  Magic furniture
        D1170.  Magic utensils and implements
        D1210.  Magic musical instruments
        D1240.  Magic waters and medicines
        D1250.  Miscellaneous magic obiects


D1300-D1599. Function of magic objects
    D1300-D1379.  Magic obiects effect changes in person
        D1300. Magic obiect gives supernatural wisdom
        D1310.  Magic object gives supernatural information
        D1330.  Magic objects works physical change
        D1350.  Magic object changes person's disposition
        D1360.  Magic object effects temporary change in perse
        D1380.  Magic object protects
        D1390.  Magic object rescues person
    D1400-D1439.  Magic object gives power over other persons
        D1400.  Magic object overcomes person
        D1410.  Magic object renders person helpless
        D1420.  Magic object draws person (thing) to it
        D1430.  Magic object pursues or captures
        D1440.  Magic object gives power over animals
        D1450.  Magic object furnishes treasure
        D1470.  Magic object as provider
        D1500.  Magic object controls disease
        D1520.  Magic object affords miraculous transportation
        D1540.  Magic object controls the elements
        D1550.  Magic object miraculously opens and closes
        D1560.  Magic object performs other services for owner


D1600-D1699.  Characteristics of magic objects
D1600-D1649. Automatic maeic obiects
        D1600.  Automatic obiect
        D1610.  Magic speaking objects
        D1620.  Magic automata
        D1640.  Other automatic objects
        D1650.  Other characteristics of magic obiects




D1710-D1799. Possession and means of employment of magic powers
        D1710.  Possession of magic powers
        D1720.  Acquisition of magic powers
        D1740.  Loss of magic powers
        D1750.  Other characteristics of magic power
        D1760.  Means of producing magic power


D1800-D2199  Manifestations of magic power
    D1800-D1949.  Lasting magic qualities
        D1810.  Magic knowledge
        D1820.  Magic sight and hearing
        D1830.  Magic strength
        D1840.  Magic invulnerability
        D1850.  Immortality
        D1860.  Magic beautification
        D1870.  Magic hideousness
        D1880.  Magic rejuvenation
        D1890.  Magic aging
        D1900.  Love induced by magic
        D1910.  Magic memory
        D1920.  Other permanent magic characteristic
    D1950-D2049.  Temporary magic characteristic
        D1960.  Magic sleep
        D1980.  Magic invisibility
        D2000.  Magic forgetfulness
        D2020.  Magic dumbness
        D2030.  Other temporary magic characteristic
    D2050-D2099.  Destructive magic powers
        D2060.  Death or bodily injury by magic
        D2070.  Bewitching
        D2080.  Magic used against property
        D2090.  Other destructive magic powers
    D2100-D2149.  Other manifestations of magic powe
        D2100.  Magic wealth
        D2120.  Magic transportation
        D2140.  Magic control of the elements
    D2150-D2199.  Miscellaneous magical manifestation


I found the Motif-Index in the library when I was at university, and spent way too much money copying sections of it. I would not be surprised if someoen had not produced a digital version on the internet, though I haven't looked for it. If not, try your local university library.


Dean Shomshak

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the most central element of fairy tale magic is the duality that it is persistent yet unreal. A curse could last 300 years, then vanish because someone calls someone by their correct name.

Maleficent can certainly use combat magic; she hurls fire and turns into a dragon. She can hypnotize and command Aurora.

Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, DShomshak said:

I found the Motif-Index in the library when I was at university, and spent way too much money copying sections of it. I would not be surprised if someoen had not produced a digital version on the internet, though I haven't looked for it. If not, try your local university library.


Dean Shomshak


They did. It is.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...